Disability News Service, Resources, Diversity, Americans with Disabilities Act; Local and National.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

To Ensure Equal Protection, the14th Amendment Should Be Used for People with Disabilities

Any American, at any stage of life, could join the nearly one-in-five of our citizens who has a disability. If people with disabilities were a formally recognized minority group, they would constitute the largest minority population in the United States.

article by LINDA KLEIN for the ABA Journal | June 27, 2017                                                             

ABA President Linda Klein.
Photograph courtesy of the Office of the President.
But they are not, and that presents some difficult legal issues. When it comes to employment opportunities, educational equality and access to fair benefits, people with disabilities can lack essential constitutional protections.

Did you know that it is legal to pay you less than minimum wage if you have a disability? And you can be denied a job opportunity if an employer has to make an accommodation that is deemed “unreasonable.”

People with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty and far more likely to be unemployed.

People are not disabled by physical or cognitive impairments. Rather, architectural barriers, societal attitudes and discriminatory policies contribute to the status of those with disabilities.

How our government and we, as a society, address the issues that confront people with disabilities and their families—from transportation, to employment, to education, to full and equal access to services—defines us as a people.

We have made progress in the past 50 years in the area of disability rights. New assistive technologies have made it possible for people with disabilities to use computers, phones, elevators and mass transportation on their own.

And Congress has passed several laws that have protected the rights of those with disabilities, including the Architectural Barriers Act in 1968, the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1970, the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act in 1988.

Thanks to these laws, individuals with disabilities have greater access to buildings, public transportation, housing and education. All these laws led up to the crowning legislative achievement: The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications.

In spite of this progress, constitutional limits protecting people with disabilities remain.

The 14th Amendment, and especially its Equal Protection Clause, has been a powerful tool in the battle for civil rights in our courts ever since the 1954 Brown v Board of Education ruling that determined schools segregated by race were unconstitutional. While the 14th Amendment has been used to uphold the rights of women and minorities, it has not proven as effective in the disability rights movement, due mainly to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling more than 30 years ago.

In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc. that a permit for group home for mentally disabled people should be granted. But despite the ruling in favor of the home, the court did not find that the mentally disabled were in a class that was historically subjected to discrimination. Therefore, they were not entitled to a stricter level of review under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

This decision has made it much easier for states to pass laws that discriminate against people with disabilities. States have a lower bar to clear when proving that they have a reasonable and rational excuse for not making accommodations for people with disabilities. Many times, showing the added costs and expenses has proved sufficient for the courts.

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of individuals with disabilities based on statutes. In March of this year, the court ruled 8-0 in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School that a child with disabilities is entitled to more than just a minimal education. But the decision was based on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and not the 14th Amendment.

Several disability rights groups recently sued the New York City subway system over its lack of accessibility. Only 117 of the system’s 272 stations, less than 25 percent, are accessible to people who cannot use stairs. But again, no mention of the 14th Amendment in the complaint. Instead, plaintiffs are claiming violation of the New York City Human Rights Law, which recognizes disability as a protected class and offers broader protections.

While the courts have not yet recognized that rights of people with disabilities are fully protected under the 14th Amendment, the American Bar Association supports legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabilities akin to existing prohibitions on discrimination based on race, sex, national origin and religion. If stronger legislation, such as the New York City Human Rights Law, is not passed more broadly in America, then judicial action is needed to ensure those with disabilities can function as equal, productive members of society.

It’s time for courts to recognize the rights of people with disabilities. Constitutional protections are required if they are to have true equality. We celebrated the 14th Amendment during Law Day on May 1. We would do well to pursue constitutional protections for those with disabilities so truly all can benefit from America’s commitment to freedom and equal opportunity for all.

Linda Klein is the senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz and president of the American Bar Association. Follow President Klein on Twitter @LindaKleinLaw or email abapresident@americanbar.org.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How to Contact Your Elected Officials in 2017

Use this directory  at USA.gov to find contact information for your elected officials on both the local and national level. Let them know that you are a constituent who is concerned about (your issue) and wish to speak to someone regarding these issues.

Social media is another powerful tool for communicating directly with elected officials; use this verified list of members of Congress on Twitter to instantly voice your opinion about the issues that matter to you.

A full list of US senators on Twitter - 2017 is available on BirdSong Analytics.

The Day Disability Rights Activists ADAPT Stormed Sen. Mitch McConnell's Office

ADAPT, a national disability rights organization, organized a protest to fight back on the health care bill.

Disability rights activists from grassroots group ADAPT staged a "die-in" in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 22nd, 2017.

Article by s.e. smith for ROLLING STONE | 06/22/2017                                                                      

As Senate Republicans rolled out the Better Care Reconciliation Act, their health care reform proposal, on Thursday, the halls outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were starting to get a little crowded. Sixty disability rights activists from grassroots group ADAPT, many of whom were using wheelchairs, staged a "die-in" to protest steep Medicaid cuts in the bill. They were arrested and removed by Capitol Police, with witnesses saying that some protesters were dropped by police officers dragging them from their chairs.

Bruce Darling, an ADAPT organizer who participated in the die-in, tells Rolling Stonethe group took less than a week to coordinate. "It's truly un-American that the Republicans in Congress are trying to steal from disabled Americans to give to wealthy people," he says, describing the impetus behind the protest.

While ADAPT may not be widely known outside the disability community, the group has been fighting for disability autonomy since the 1970s, representing the 20 percent of the U.S. population that lives with a disability. The 43-year-old organization has engaged in thousands of direct actions like this one across the country. In Washington alone this year, protesters were arrested outside the White House in May and dragged from the Capitol Rotunda in March at the behest of House Majority Leader Paul Ryan (R-WI).

This protest comes with high stakes: Both the House and Senate "Trumpcare" bills propose radical changes to the American health care landscape that would hit disabled Americans first, and hardest. Some of the deepest cuts are to Medicaid, the entitlement program developed in 1965 to provide health coverage to low-income Americans. The Affordable Care Act allowed states to opt in to an expansion that brought more Americans into state Medicaid programs, and both the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and BCRA threaten to roll back that expansion.

At the same time that Trumpcare will kick millions people off Medicaid, contributing to a spike in the uninsured rate in America, it’s also promoting block granting as a funding model. Republicans say block grants, in which states receive a bulk disbursement of federal funds to spend on health care, increase flexibility. In one sense, they do: They allow states to decide what they want to stop covering, and to severely limit the availability and nature of Medicaid coverage to residents.

This is worrying for low-income people with complex health care needs – and with 27 percent of disabled people living in poverty, that means a disproportionate number of disabled Americans. ADAPT isn't just concerned about whether disabled Americans will be able to access health care services, however. The group also believes that Medicaid austerity will push disabled people into institutional settings for care. It’s fitting that this protest coincides with the anniversary of 1999's groundbreaking Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court case that affirmed disabled people have a right to live in the community.

The fight for deinstitutionalization has been a core of disability rights activism for decades. Disabled Americans argue that being able to decide where you live should be viewed as an intrinsic civil right. Historically, people with complex needs have been forced into residential facilities by bureaucratic policies that limited coverage for so-called home and community-based services (HCBS). Medicaid, for example, would refuse to provide coverage for aides and other supports in the community, while still paying for nursing home care. People who couldn't afford this care on their own had only one choice: Disappearing into an institution.

"If you have a car accident ... if something happens to you," says Darling, "Do you think it's appropriate for the government to say you shouldn't have the same right to life and liberty?"

Aside from being a question of human rights, this is also a question of cost, something that should appeal to budget-conscious Republicans. According to 2012 analysis by the National Council on Disability, a nonpartisan federal agency, it is substantially less costly to allow disabled people to live in their communities. In some states, it can cost over $300,000 annually to institutionalize a single disabled person – and that person could get community-based care for as little as $21,000.

Disability justice and fiscal conservatism, in this case, have a lot in common. This is also an issue much bigger than disability. Drastic cuts to Medicaid will hit seniors hard as well, and they'll cause drastic changes at many community hospitals. Medicaid funding is also used for activities like supporting education for disabled students, indirectly improving education for all students.

Over coming days, argument over the language in the bill surrounding Medicaid reform may be fierce. Changing the structure of this entitlement program could save the federal government billions of dollars in the short term, but only at great cost to society.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

U.S. Access Board Meeting and Webcast (July 12, 2017)

Laptop with Board meeting on screenThe U.S. Access Board will hold its next meeting on July 12 from 1:30 – 3:00 (ET) at the Board's conference space in downtown Washington, D.C. The public is welcome to attend in person or through a live webcast of the meeting. The meeting agenda includes updates on various Board programs and activities.
A public comment period will be held during the final 15 minutes of the meeting. Those interested in making comments in person or by phone should send an email by July 5 to Rose Bunales at bunales@access-board.gov with "Access Board meeting - Public Comment" in the subject line. Please include your name, organization, state, and topic of your comment in the body of the message.
Further information is posted on the Board's website.
Meeting of the U.S. Access Board    
July 12, 1:30 – 3:00 (ET)
Webcast link: www.access-board.gov/webcast
Access Board Conference Center
1331 F Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, D.C.
Note: For the comfort of all participants and to promote a fragrance-free environment, attendees are requested not to use perfume, cologne, or other fragrances.
For more on the U.S. Access Board, visit: https://www.access-board.gov/

Fed Court Upholds Ruling Against D.C. Schools on Special-Needs Students

A federal appeals court on Friday (June 23, 2017) ruled that the D.C. government is not doing enough to find and assist young children with special needs who have not yet entered the school system.

article by Joe Heim for The Washington Post | June 23, 2017                                                                 
In a 3-0 ruling, the court upheld an earlier decision that found a “persistent failure” by city officials to provide services for some of the city’s most vulnerable children and their families.

The long-running case began in 2005 when parents of six children, ages 3 to 6, sued the District of Columbia, alleging that the city failed to meet the requirements of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. A provision of that law called “Child Find” holds school districts responsible for reaching out and locating young children with disabilities and developmental delays and providing services and programs for them so that they can more easily transition into kindergarten and elementary school.

In 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in DL v. District of Columbia, saying that District officials’ “persistent failure to live up to their statutory obligations, a failure that works a severe and lasting harm on one of society’s most vulnerable populations — disabled preschool children — is deeply troubling to the court.”

Lamberth ordered the city to ensure that at least 8.5 percent of District residents between the age of 3 and 5 receive special-education services. Earlier court findings had shown the city was regularly failing to identify between 98 and 515 children a month with disabilities and had the lowest percentage of special education enrollment in the United States. In the 2014-15 school year, the city provided special education and related services to 6.2 percent of the city’s 3- to 5-year-olds, District officials reported. The early intervention programs in the District are run by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), and the preschool programs are run by the D.C. Public Schools.

Last year, after the case was returned to him, Lamberth again ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying “The District’s lack of effective Child Find and transition poli­cies is particularly troubling in light of the intense scrutiny and seemingly constant admonishment it has received over the last decade.”

In its most recent appeal, the D.C. government argued the case was moot because the original named plaintiffs were now over 5 years old and the class action certification of the lawsuit was improper. The District also questioned the federal government’s jurisdiction over how the program was run.

But the court disagreed with the District, saying its position “would eviscerate the very purpose of IDEA” which was intended to make school districts proactive in identifying students with disabilities.

“The District, which has enthusiastically accepted millions of dollars in IDEA funding, now proposes to shift that burden back to the parents,” the court said in the ruling authored by Judge David S. Tatel, who was joined by Judge Thomas B. Griffith and Judge Patricia A. Millett.

In rejecting the District’s argument, the court said: “In the District’s view, it would be up to each and every parent, many of whom are poor, homeless, and perhaps disabled themselves, to somehow determine whether their children are eligible for special education services and then to retain counsel to sue the District to obtain the services to which they are entitled. Given the purpose of IDEA, we cannot imagine a more preposterous argument.”

A spokesman for D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.

The ruling is a victory for children with disabilities, said Judith Sandalow, executive director of the Childrens Law Center. “Fundamentally it clears away a hurdle in the legal battle to get this city to properly identify and provide services to toddlers,” she said. “The earlier we identify the more we can do to make sure that they are still able to learn along with their typically developing peers. The longer we wait, the harder it is to do.”

Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.

ADA Class Action Suit says Brookstone Website Is Not ADA Compliant

June 22, 2017 - Brookstone was hit with a class action lawsuit alleging the retailer’s website is not accessible to blind customers in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Lead plaintiff, New York resident Victor Andrews, alleges in his class action lawsuit that Brookstone.com is difficult, if not impossible for those with vision impairments to access.
The plaintiff claims that the website is full of access barriers that exclude blind customers, including the plaintiff, from even completing a transaction online.
Brookstone is a retail store that sells fitness equipment, games, toys, and gifts. According to the class action, Brookstone’s website, Brookstone.com, offers the same retail goods for sale and offers home and store delivery, along with store information and policies.
According to the Brookstone class action, “[t]he blind access websites by using keyboards in conjunction with screen-reading software which vocalizes visual information on a computer screen. Except for a blind person whose residual vision is still sufficient to use magnification, screen access software provides the only method by which a blind person can independently access the Internet. Unless websites are designed to allow for use in this manner, blind persons are unable to fully access Internet websites and the information, products and services contained therein.”
Over the years, well-established guidelines for making websites accessible to the blind have been followed by big companies, but, the plaintiff alleges, “[d]espite readily available accessible technology, such as the technology in use at other heavily trafficked retail websites, which makes use of alternative text, accessible forms, descriptive links, resizable text and limits the usage of tables and JavaScript, [Brookstone] has chosen to rely on an exclusively visual interface.”
The plaintiff contends that it is not fair and in violation of the ADA for blind individuals to need to rely on sighted companions to access Brookstone’s online shopping site. “Many blind people enjoy online shopping just as sighted people do,” alleges the complaint. “The lack of an accessible website means that blind people are excluded from the rapidly expanding self-service retail economy and from independently accessing Brookstone.com.”
According to the Brookstone class action lawsuit, both the federally mandated regulations found in the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as New York human rights and civil rights laws require businesses to “ensure access to goods, services and facilities by making reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.”
The plaintiff is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to require Brookstone to utilize technology on their retail website to allow blind individuals independent access. Additionally, the plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages for discrimination.
The plaintiff is also seeking to represent a nationwide Class of legally blind individuals who have attempted to access Brookstone.com, as well as a New York subclass.
Andrews is represented by C.K. Lee and Anne Seelig of Lee Litigation Group PLLC.
The Brookstone ADA Class Action Lawsuit is Victor Andrews v. Brookstone Company Inc., Case No. 1:17-cv-03733, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
article by Christina Davis for Top Class Actions  News (great resource for Class Action Lawsuits)

Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks 2017 tour of "Romeo and Juliet“, with ASL, & Audio-described Accessible Performances

One of my favorite rites of summer in Chicago has become Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks, and with the amount of people asking for information on the 2017 season, (with accessible performances), it appears on all sides of the city, I'm not alone. 

Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, with the producers, actors, stagehands working with the City of Chicago, volunteers, local Park Advisory committees, and of course sponsors continue this wonderful new tradition in Chicago. The information posted below is from the "Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier" website.
All performances are posted, with the "Access Shakespeare" schedule posted also. ENJOY! - Jim
 Dvorak park - 2013 - Jim Watkins/Ability Chicago Info photo        
Join us for one of our city’s favorite summer traditions! Now in its sixth year, the FREE FOR ALL Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks tour heads out for another summer. This free 75-minute abridged production of Romeo and Juliet is coming to neighborhood parks across the north, west and south sides of the city. At each tour location, a specially equipped truck rolls into the park, a stage unfolds, and a company of professional actors shares Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers with families and neighbors of all ages.

The feud between the Capulets and Montagues divides a city. From these two proud families, Romeo and Juliet fall in love. Can these star-crossed lovers bring peace to Verona?

The citywide tour is made possible by a renewed civic, cultural and corporate partnership between Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Boeing and BMO Harris Bank. Since the inception of the Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks program six years ago, more than 100,000 Chicagoans have taken advantage of free performances in their communities.

YouTube published by Chicago Shakespeare Theater
400 years after Shakespeare's death, thousands of Chicagoans came out to their neighborhood parks to celebrate what his means to them and why his work truly is for everyone.

Where and When

Navy Pier
Polk Bros Park                                                                   
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, July 27, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Friday, July 28, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.​ ​
600 E. Grand Ave.

Ellis Park
Sunday, July 30, 2017 at 4:00 p.m.
3520 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Gage Park
Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
2411 W. 55th St.

Kelvyn Park
Thursday, August 3, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
4438 W. Wrightwood Ave.

Eckhart Park
Friday, August 4, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
1330 W. Chicago Ave.

Welles Park
Saturday, August 5, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 6, 2017 at 4:00 p.m.
2333 W. Sunnyside Ave.

Columbus Park
Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
500 S. Central Ave.

Tuley Park
Wednesday, August 9, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
501 E. 90th Pl.

Humboldt Park
Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Friday, August 11, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Near The Boathouse
1301 N. Sacramento Ave.

Frank J. Wilson Park
Saturday, August 12, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 13, 2017 at 4:00 p.m.
4630 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Garfield Park
Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
At Jackson and Central
100 N. Central Park Ave.

Dvorak Park
Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
1119 W. Cullerton St.

Ridge Park
Friday, August 18, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
1817 W. 96th St.

Steelworkers Park
Sunday, August 20, 2017 at 4:00 p.m.
E. 87th St. at Lake Michigan

Hamilton Park
Wednesday, August 23, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
513 W. 72nd St.

Piotrowski Park
Thursday, August 24, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
4247 W. 31st St.

Loyola Park
Friday, August 25, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 26, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
At Farwell Ave. Entrance
1230 W. Greenleaf Ave.

Ping Tom Memorial Park
Sunday, August 27, 2017 at 4:00 p.m.
1700 S. Wentworth Ave.

Access Shakespeare

Chicago Shakespeare strives to make its performances accessible to all patrons. Our staff is ready to help in any way possible. Below are scheduled Access performances for Shakespeare in the Parks Romeo and Juliet:

 ASL Duo-interpreted Performances:

Eckhart Park
Friday, August 4, at 6:30 p.m.
1330 W. Chicago Ave.
Welles Park
Sunday, August 6, at 4:00 p.m.
2333 W. Sunnyside Ave.
Ridge Park
Saturday, August 19, at 6:30 p.m.
1817 W. 96th St.
Hamilton Park
Wednesday, August 23, at 6:30 p.m.
513 W. 72nd St.
Loyola Park
Saturday, Aug 26, at 6:30 p.m.
At Farwell Ave. Entrance
1230 W. Greenleaf Ave.
Ping Tom Park
Sunday, August 27, at 4:00 p.m.
1700 S. Wentworth Ave.
All performances interpreted by Will Lee (NIC) and Elizabeth Bartlow Breslin (CI/CT).

 Audio-described Performances:

Frank J. Wilson Park
Sunday, August 13, at 4:00 p.m.
4630 N. Milwaukee Ave
Described by Jason Harrington
No reservation is required—a section for patrons utilizing the service will be held near the stage.
Assisted listening devices are available for all Shakespeare in the Parks performances at our Welcome Table near the park entrance.
Phone: 312.595.5600
TTY: 312.595.5699

4th of July Fireworks Can Trigger PTSD for Veterans

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. -- Stationed in Khandahar, Afghanistan, for nine months in 2012, Sgt. Matthew Thomason got used to falling asleep to the lullaby of gunfire and explosions -- so much so that he could tell what kind of weapon was being fired just by the sound. When he returned home to Clark County in September 2013, he thought he would miss the noise of war as he transitioned back to the quiet civilian world.

Associated Press | 28 Jun 2016 | by Elizabeth DePompei                                                                        

The first time he heard the crack of fireworks around July 4 the following year, he realized how wrong he was. Thomason, a 28-year-old Louisville native and Sellersburg resident, remembers being at that first Independence Day party when a flashback was suddenly triggered. He was either playing a game or in a conversation with his wife -- he can't remember which -- when someone behind him set off fireworks without warning.

"When that happened, I physically just jumped and didn't really know where I was for a minute," he said. "I had a flashback and we had to leave, and that started to be a trend."

Several months prior, Thomason was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, at a local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic. He was later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, though he doesn't know which explosion did it. Now when July 4 comes around, he and his wife go out of town, somewhere like the Smoky Mountains where Thomason can find peace and quiet. And he's not the only one.

Thomason is one of an estimated 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan wars diagnosed with PTSD, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. While fireworks don't trigger PTSD for all soldiers or veterans, it seems to be a more common occurrence in recent years. Cindy Ramminger, coordinator of the PTSD clinical team at Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville, said fireworks were an issue for veterans from as far back as the Vietnam and Gulf wars.

But with so many soldiers coming home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq it's becoming a bigger problem, Ramminger said. It's not uncommon for her to hear of veterans leaving their homes on the very holiday they fought in the name of, just to escape the noise.

"It can remind them of what might sound like an incoming rocket or mortars or gunfire, which can cause them to get on alert and it can cause them to be frightened," Ramminger said. "It can push them into a flashback (and) can cause intrusive thoughts, so they'll start remembering a traumatic event like when they got blown up in an IED attack or lost a friend to some kind of explosion."

Thomason said as a solider, he was repeatedly trained to react quickly and defensively when there was a perceived threat. So when he unexpectedly hears fireworks in the weeks leading up to July 4, his body immediately jumps to attention. Unlike what you'll see in the movies, Thomason said his flashbacks aren't necessarily visual. It's more about the smell of the powder left behind by fireworks, a smell similar to a freshly fired M4.

He calls it an overwhelming "feeling of terror."

Thomason has found ways to cope, like making sure his back is against a hard structure when he's feeling unsafe. Breathing exercises help, too, but those tactics don't always work. Sure, he can leave town on July 4 to avoid the triggers, but what about the days leading up to then? Thomason said his terror starts as early as May as people start stocking up on fireworks and setting them off unexpectedly.

Shawn Gourley, the co-founder of "Military with PTSD", a nonprofit organization based in Evansville, said that's the issue many veterans have with early fireworks. Gourley started a Facebook page in 2010 to help spouses of veterans and later created a website with resources for couples and families. Last year, a member shared a photo of a sign he created to put in his front yard that read, "Combat veteran lives here. Please be courteous with fireworks."

The photo got millions of shares, Gourley said. She asked the member if the organization could mass produce the same sign and send them out to veterans. The member said yes and before she knew it, Military with PTSD had sent out more than 4,000 signs to veterans across the country — at no cost to the veterans. This year, the organization has sent out more than 1,600 signs. Different signs for supporters of the cause, including civilians, are now available on the website for a fee.

Gourley said the signs have helped veterans start discussions with neighbors. A knock on the door and a heads up that someone plans on setting off fireworks can make a big difference, she said. For the neighbors, the signs show them a way to help the people who served their country.

"It isn't to stop fireworks. What it is, is any day leading up to July 4 and the days following July 4. If you're going to be setting off fireworks, if you could just give the veterans a heads up. It's the unexpected fireworks that is what bothers them, what can trigger (PTSD)."

In Indiana, state statute allows for fireworks between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. year round and until midnight on holidays like July 4. Local ordinances can limit when fireworks are allowed, but state statute trumps those ordinances between June 29 and July 9. During that timeframe, local municipalities can not restrict fireworks use beyond the statute.

In Sellersburg, where Thomason lives, an ordinance prohibits all fireworks during the rest of the year. Town attorney Jake Elder said the council planned on adding an ordinance to make exceptions during July 4 season to the meeting agenda for Monday's council meeting. Elder said town officials thought such an ordinance already existed.

Thomason said he's called Sellersburg police about fireworks being set off as early as June 1, but he said he hasn't gotten a response. Police Chief Russ Whelan said he is not aware of any complaints pertaining to fireworks triggering PTSD. Whelan added that the department looks to state statute when regulating fireworks in the town.

Indiana Rep. Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, said he's not aware of any talk about amending state statute in light of the issue. But he said anything that could help veterans dealing with PTSD should be considered.

Thomason said he doesn't want to ruin anyone's fun. Putting a sign in his yard isn't for him, and he knows many veterans who are embarrassed even to talk about their PTSD.

"I think a lot of people would like just more understanding and more respect. There's no need to be setting off fireworks consistently before Fourth of July," Thomason said. "Because going to that place in my head on a regular basis for two months is really a tortuous thing."

Gourley said she understands that not every veteran wants a sign in their yard, but she thinks finding a positive way to confront triggers is better than avoiding them. And beyond that, she said the signs have inspired appreciation. One veteran told her that after putting a sign in his yard, a woman showed up at his door with a bouquet of flowers and a thank you.

Scott Ham, a retired command sergeant major with the Indiana National Guard who lives in New Albany, said he doesn't have PTSD and isn't triggered by fireworks, but he knows vets who are. He said it's important for loved ones to be respectful of those veterans who are triggered by fireworks.

"All of my friends that I know that have issues with it, have all said that it seems like their friends and family insist on pressuring them that it will be OK," Ham said. "But the last thing you want to do is put someone in that position when you don't know what the potential outcome could be."

Thomason, who was medically discharged in February, said his symptoms have gotten easier to manage, but he thinks they'll always be there to some extent. He's now able to work part-time for a New Albany-based piping fabrication company, though he often works from home where he's confronted with fireworks three to four times a week in June. On the Fourth, he may not hear the fireworks or see the colorful display in the sky, but the holiday still represents what he fought for during those 10 years of service: a country where everyone is treated equal.

"That's the America that I fought for, where we have freedom to choose, and we're not discriminated against or put down because of anything," Thomason said. "So for me it still means that. The only thing that's truly changed is how I celebrate it".

© Copyright 2017 Associated Press . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

Illinois Advocates & U.S. Sen Duckworth Outline How Trumpcare Would Devastate Illinois

CHICAGO, IL –June 26, 2017.  U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) joined Illinois advocates for seniors, working families, disability rights, and mental health care today to outline the devastating effects Trumpcare would have on the state of Illinois. Speaking on a press call, Duckworth discussed how the version of Trumpcare Senate Republicans revealed on Thursday after weeks of secret negotiations would increase health care costs for working families and jeopardize the health care of hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans – all while giving millionaires and billionaires a massive tax cut. Audio of the press call is available upon request.
“Trumpcare would force working families to pay more money to receive significantly worse care and put Veterans, women, seniors and people with disabilities on the chopping block – all to give massive tax cuts to President Trump’s billionaire friends,” said Duckworth. “The Republican healthcare bill isn’t just unacceptable. It’s downright shameful. While Republicans leaders are taking extreme measures to shut down real debate and rush this bill through Congress, I will do everything I can to stop Trumpcare in its tracks.”
Other speakers on the call included National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare President/CEO Max Richtman, Citizen Action Illinois Co-Director Lynda DeLaforgue, Access Living President/CEO Marca Bristo, National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago Associate Director Jennifer McGowan, and EverThrive Illinois Health Reform Initiative Director Kathy Waligora.
“The Senate’s version of the American Health Care Act is an exercise in political expediency that does nothing to safeguard access to quality healthcare for older Americans,” said National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare President/CEO Max Richtman. “It would end the Medicaid program as we know it, astoundingly making even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the House did – costing millions their Medicaid coverage in the process. This is devastating news for today’s and tomorrow’s seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s, cancer, the after-effects of stroke and other serious conditions who depend on Medicaid to pay for long-term care. The Senate legislation will also make healthcare unaffordable for many near seniors aged 50-64, allowing insurers to charge older Americans five times as much as younger adults. Older patients with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease will pay sky-high premiums. Americans of conscience must demand that their Senators put people before party and defeat this mean and heartless legislation before it’s too late.”
“Illinois already is in a state of crisis after more than 700 days without a budget, but the American Health Care Act (AHCA) threatens to take the chaos to a new level, chiefly via massive cuts in federal support to Illinois via Medicaid,” added Citizen Action Illinois Co-Director Lynda DeLaforgue. “This bill will upend the lives of seniors and people with disabilities, make women a second class for healthcare and blow an even bigger hole in the Illinois budget, eliminating $40 billion in Medicaid funding over 10 years. Other governors have taken a clear stand against the cascading impact to their state stemming from the GOP healthcare plan. When the AHCA passed the U.S. House — Rauner said ‘We will continue to voice our concerns as the bill moves to the Senate.’ Governor Rauner has said nothing publicly about how he will blunt the impact of these disastrous cuts to our state Medicaid program. The healthcare of more than 700,000 seniors, children and people with disabilities hangs in the balance and the Governor has given them nothing but platitudes.”
“Reducing access to mental health services is a step in the wrong direction, making it harder for people to get medications, therapy, case management and support services that they need to live in recovery,” added from National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago Associate Director Jennifer McGowan. “Continued reductions to our already fragile and under-funded mental health treatment system would be devastating to nearly one third of the Medicaid population living with mental health or substance use disorders. Government cannot turn its back on those that are living productive and fulfilling lives because of the treatment they are receiving. We need more coverage for mental health care, not less.”
“EverThrive Illinois is horrified at the proposals put forward by Republican members of Congress in the American Health Care Act and now the Better Care Act,” said EverThrive Illinois Health Reform Initiative Director Kathy Waligora. “These bills are shockingly cruel and seem intentionally designed to make women—and by extension their children—less healthy. In crafting their health plan, it is clear that the GOP is not concerned with truly improving health outcomes, reviewing the evidence, or employing compassion in a complicated system; they are concerned with winning and women and children will be the ones to lose.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

State of Massachusetts Seeks Changes After Abuse of Mentally Disabled Patient at Judge Rotenberg Center

Investigators say two employees beat, whipped and spat on a restrained patient.

article by Sean Philip Cotter for The Patriot Ledger | June 22, 2017                                                      
The state recommends that the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center take a hard look at its policies after two now-former employees were charged with assaulting a patient.

The Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission investigation into the matter substantiated the abuse claims, according to the investigation report obtained by The Patriot Ledger.

The two ex-employees are charged with striking a tied-down mentally ill man with a belt and their hands on multiple occasions, as well as spitting on him at a Randolph residence owned by the Canton-based center.
“That (the two employees) acted with so little regard to (the victim’s) dignity and his behavioral program for such a period of time suggests that staff is either insufficiently trained or supported to carry out complex treatment programs for individuals with disabilities,” the commission wrote in its report.
The investigators found that the two employees had been doing this from time to time for nearly a year, according to the report. The commission wrote that the length of time this went undetected was concerning.

″(The Rotenberg Center) should review and revise this system to ensure the best protection for students and staff,” the report states.

No one from the center returned a message seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

Emil DeRiggi, the deputy executive director of the commission, said that the recommendations in the report are non-binding, but facilities generally acquiesce to them.

“They are typically followed pretty closely by whoever the recommendations are made to,” he said on Thursday.

The commission says that the main goal of any investigation the commission does is to determine if there’s further harm possible to any victims, and how further harm can be prevented.

As is normal protocol, the commission sent the completed report to the state Department of Developmental Services, which is one of the licensing agencies for the Rotenberg center.

No one from that department could be reached for comment Thursday.

The two employees charged are Mohamed Tarawally, 36, of 200 Hancock St., apartment 33, Boston, and Claude S. Guerrier, 24, of 67 Weston St., Brockton. Rotenberg suspended and then fired the two men after the allegations surfaced. They are both due to be arraigned in Norfolk County Superior Court at 2 p.m. Friday on assault charges.

Police say that Tarawally threatened, punched and hit with a belt an adult male patient. Guerrier shoved the patient, threatened him and spat on him, according to police.

Randolph police wrote in their report that video surveillance in one resident’s room in the facility at 20 Country Club Drive showed that one or the other of the men, both working the overnight shift, had committed these crimes at various times in October and November.

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center has been the center of controversy for years, mostly over its use of electrical shocks on some of its patients as behavior-modification therapy. The private center, which provides various educational and behavioral services, was using skin shocks on 55 of the center’s 235 patients as of 2014.

That year, the federal Food and Drug Administration recommended that the center stop using the shocks; the FDA became involved after years of complaints from disability-rights groups and even a U.N. report that the shocks are tantamount to torture. Rotenberg has settled lawsuits in the past regarding the use of electric shocks.

Orlando Dr Miguel Burgos and Infusion Clinic Owner Sentenced to Prison for Role in Medicare Fraud

June 26, 2017 - An Orlando, Florida  medical doctor and an infusion clinic owner were sentenced to 64 months in prison and two years supervised release, and 90 months and two years supervised release, respectively, today for their roles in a $13.7 million Medicare fraud conspiracy that involved submitting claims for expensive infusion-therapy drugs that were never purchased, never provided and not medically necessary.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge Shimon R. Richmond of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office made the announcement.

Dr. Miguel Burgos, 60, of Gotha, Florida, and Yosbel Marimon, 40, of Winter Park, Florida, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Roy B. Dalton, Jr. of the Middle District of Florida. Judge Dalton also ordered the defendants to pay $9.8 million in restitution and to forfeit the same amount. As part of his plea, Marimon also consented to the forfeiture of real property valued at approximately $1.7 million. Burgos and Marimon each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud: Burgos on February 9, Marimon on February 16.

As part of his guilty plea, Burgos admitted that between July 2008 and September 2011, he was the medical director of four Orlando-area infusion clinics that received Medicare funds. Marimon admitted that he was one of the owners of the four clinics. Burgos and Marimon further admitted that they billed Medicare and private insurance companies for, among other things, expensive infusion therapy medications, including anticancer chemotherapeutic medications, despite never administering the drugs. Burgos and Marimon also admitted to submitted false claims to Medicare and private insurance companies for physical therapy conducted at the clinics, even though there was no licensed physical therapist on staff at the clinics, they admitted. In connection with the scheme, the defendants admitted that they billed Medicare and private insurers approximately $13.7 million, of which approximately $9.8 million was paid on the fraudulent claims.

This case was investigated by HHS-OIG. Fraud Section Trial Attorney Timothy Loper prosecuted the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Andrejko also provided assistance regarding asset forfeiture issues in this case.

The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 3,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $12 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
source: Department of Justice press release

U.S. Senate Health Bill Leaves 22 Million Uninsured; Budget Office Report

WASHINGTON (AP) -  June 22, 2017 -The Senate Republican health care bill would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured in 2026 than under President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday, in a blow to GOP leaders’ hopes of pushing the plan through the chamber this week.

The CBO coverage estimates pose yet another problem for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who unveiled the legislation last Thursday. By Friday afternoon, he was facing public statements of opposition from five GOP senators — three more defections than he can afford and still win approval for the legislation over united Democratic opposition. Others have expressed concerns.

The 22 million additional people without coverage under the Senate proposal is just a hair better than the 23 million who’d be left without insurance under the measure the House approved last month, the budget office has estimated. President Donald Trump has called the House version “mean” and called on Senate Republicans to approve legislation with more “heart.”

Of the 22 million, 15 million of them would have no insurance next year, the nonpartisan budget office said. That could be a particular concern to Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who faces perhaps the toughest 2018 re-election race of any Senate Republican and who’s said he can’t support a health care package that cuts Medicaid like the GOP plan and takes coverage from “tens of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Nevadans.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and several other moderate GOP senators have also expressed concerns about the measure’s impact on coverage. On the other hand, four conservatives have said they oppose the current version of the bill for not doing enough to reduce premiums.

The budget office report said it believes the Senate bill “would increase the number of uninsured people substantially. The increase would be disproportionately larger among older people with lower income” — especially those between 50 and 64 and with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, or around $30,300 for a single person. Those ages are just shy of when people begin qualifying for Medicare coverage.

Earlier Monday, Republican leaders added a penalty to their bill for people who’ve had at least a 63-day gap in coverage during the past year. Under that proposal, if they then buy insurance, they would face a six-month delay before it takes effect. The budget office said its estimate included the impact of that addition.

The change was aimed at helping insurance companies and the insurance market by discouraging healthy people from waiting to buy a policy until they get sick. Insurers need healthy customers who are inexpensive to cover to help pay the costs of people with medical conditions that are costly to treat.

The Senate bill would roll back much of Obama’s health care overhaul. His statute pressures people to buy insurance by imposing a tax penalty on those who don’t, but the Republican legislation would repeal that penalty, effectively erasing Obama’s so-called individual mandate.

The House approved its legislation in May. It would require insurers to boost premiums by 30 percent for those whose coverage lapsed.

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